Thank you to our guest blogger, Bekki Spotts. What an amazing story!
Good morning on the day after the 37th Marine Corps Marathon!
As I sit awaiting the impact of Sandy, I’ve had the chance to reflect a bit on yesterday and since you all were responsible for making it happen, I wanted to share it with you.
My family and I drove to Washington, DC the day before the run in order to participate in the Operation Homefront pasta dinner. As part of the dinner, we were able to hear the story of Sgt. Ken Patterson, USA, who was one of our honorees. Ken is a wounded warrior and listening to him speak about the impact Operation Homefront has had on his life made me very proud to have raised money for this wonderful organization. After the dinner the kids shook his hand and thanked him for his service. He looked at their name tags and told them, “One of my very good friends has the last name Spotts. In fact, he is the pilot of the helicopter I was in when we were attacked and he saved my life!” He then saluted both kids (and they responded in kind) and thanked them for their support!
Marathon day started for me at 0400, because honestly there was no sleep that night! Poor Meredith woke up to keep me company, but Bennett slept through. Nerves were high, I didn’t want to miss the team meet up and since I had no idea where the marathon start was, this meeting was imperative! If you know me, being on time is being late so I was at the meet-up at 0535 and then had to wait…and wait…and wait. Finally we made it out of the hotel at 0630 and promptly got lost! Thankfully there were nice policemen all over the place who directed us toward the start line, which took us through Arlington National Cemetery. To walk through these hallowed grounds in the pre-dawn hours was humbling to say the least and I thought of the sacrifices these men and women made.
The start line loomed ahead and I promptly found my starting corral and waited. As the crowds gathered, we were treated to a fly-over by a couple of Osprey aircraft, which is a sight to behold. The Chaplain then gave a blessing, the National Anthem was performed and then…the Howitzer sounded! It took me around 6 minutes to get to the start line and as I got to the arch, my feet remembered what they were there for and I was off!
Although there were 30,000 runners, it didn’t feel like that. Everyone gave each other space and there was no elbowing or jostling for position, which really surprised me. As the run went back by my hotel (so that’s where it is), the crowds were amazing. Signs and bands, cheers and cowbells – I had no idea people would be so excited to see a bunch of runners! We winded our way through Rock Creek park and as the crowds thinned I began to notice my fellow runners. I ran by a contingent from the British Royal Marines who were accompanying one of their own, who was running in his full EOD suit. I then passed a color guard who were running astride on another carrying flags from each branch of service. I saw a group of soldiers taking turns pushing their comrade in a wheelchair as he was wounded in combat and this was his marathon. There were Marines running in full combat gear, brothers running for brothers, sisters for sisters, parents running for children and children running for parents and I tried to read every name on every shirt that I saw.
As I ran through Hains Point (about halfway), I noticed signs in the grass with faces of kids. Not kids the age of mine, but young adults. They were beautiful pictures of young men and women who had died in combat and following the signs, were American flags. It wasn’t until I got closer that I realized the flags were being held by individuals who were honoring those lives lost. They were a group called “Wear Blue” and as part of the MCM, they posted people for an entire mile with those pictures and American flags so that we, the runners, would remember. Once again humbled, I continued on and saw, on the back of two shirts, a face I recognized. As I got closer, I read the words “Finish What He Started.” I tapped the shoulder of the man and said “I knew Matt.” Matt was a cadet who graduated a year before me at the Coast Guard Academy and he was hit by a car in Washington, DC not to long after graduating from the Academy. The man who wore the shirt was his brother, running MCM for Matt who had been training for it when his life was cut short. We chatted for a bit, I shared some memories of Matt with him and continued on.
I then ran by many of DC’s memorials – Jefferson, Lincoln, the Washington Monument, the Capitol Building. Again there were crowds and bands and Marines giving us water and gatorade. I tried to high five as many kids as I could as I soaked up the day. As I reached mile 20 I had to acknowledge that my lower body really hurt. I knew at that point that I could walk and probably finish in time, but the crowds kept pulling me along. I’ve never experienced anything like it and if you ever think just cheering really doesn’t have an impact, you are wrong. I felt energy like I never had (thank you for the far away prayers) and I pushed on. Soon I was through Crystal City and running by the Pentagon. The legs hurt but I kept going and soon I heard roaring crowds, though I couldn’t see the end. My dad actually called at that point and I think I cried a bit, but kept on going. A man on the side told me “400 yards” and I remember saying “Really? Are you serious?” To which he answered, “Look up there!!!” And I saw it, the final hill to the Iwo Jima Memorial. On I ran and crossed the finish line, not with a smile but tears. Finally able to stop, I was directed to a line of Marines (maybe 100 on either side), each of whom shook my hand and congratulated me. I thanked them for their service and held back my tears.
What an amazing experience it was beyond the run. I thank you for helping me through it, whether through your financial support of Operation Homefront, your encouraging words, showing up on race day in crazy hats and with signs, your prayers for my safety, listening to my doubt and telling me I could do it. I wouldn’t trade the pain for anything in the world. While it is true I ran the race by myself, I was not alone in the journey. I made wonderful friends as a part of this process and am now a “Red Felter!” This was, for sure, a highlight for me and I can’t thank you enough.
Tell us your experience about running the Marine Corps Marathon.